Sunday, September 21

Notes: Woods makes a splash


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- His hand on his hip, Tiger Woods skulked over to the long grass, bent down, tore a tuft out of the ground and threw it into the wind.

Yes, just as he thought, the gust was coming from behind him. But, no, it wasn't blowing as strongly as he'd guessed.

The result: a splash in the water fronting the green on No. 4, the first of three balls Woods put in the drink Sunday at The Players Championship.

That was part of a frustrating even-par round of 72 that left him tied for 11th.

''I could have stayed home and it would have been the same score,'' Woods said. ''Instead, I came out there and created a few more gray hairs.''

Woods finished at 6-under-par 282 -- 11 strokes behind winner Davis Love III -- and failed to finish in the top 10 for the first time since the British Open last year. It ended a streak of 10 straight top-10 finishes.

In one of his most remarkably uneven rounds in recent memory, he made two eagles, two double bogeys and placed those three balls into the water -- a staggering number for the world's best player.

His second water ball came on the par-5 11th hole and resulted in bogey. By then, he was already five strokes off the lead on a blustery day at the TPC at Sawgrass, his chances gone for a fourth tournament victory in five events this year.

''Given conditions like that, you have to hit the ball well, and I wasn't able to do that for 18 holes,'' he said.

His final water ball came -- where else? -- on the 17th island hole, a ball he ''raked across just enough to make it float'' through the air.

Soon after, a disappointing week came to an end. After holing out on No. 18, he took off his cap and covered his face in mock shame, drawing laughs from the crowd.

What to make of Woods' week at the Players, four days in which he never really found his swing?

In 2001, he won here, then went on to win The Masters. Last year, he finished 14th and -- yes -- went on to win The Masters.

''My game is fine,'' he said. ''I know what I need to do. It's just a matter of doing it and trusting it. When I'm at home, I'll get the reps in and I'll feel a lot more comfortable than I do now.''

Allenby's charge
Robert Allenby shot his 65, went into the clubhouse, ate a big lunch and prayed for wind.

''I'm not religious, but I might be right now,'' he confessed.

By the time Allenby's early round was over, his final score of 10 under looked like it might be good enough to win.

But the wind never blew quite hard enough, and Allenby had no clue about how well Davis Love III would play later in the day. So, the 31-year-old Aussie wound up with the second-best round of the day (behind Love) and a fourth-place finish -- not bad for a guy who began tied for 18th.

''It was probably one of my best rounds yet -- to shoot 7 under on the last day of the TPC and give myself a chance,'' said Allenby, a five-year veteran of the PGA Tour.

His best shot of the day came at the end, when he pured a 3-iron from 201 yards to within 9 feet. He made the putt and was one of only three players to make birdie on No. 18 on Sunday.

''I played pretty much the best golf I could play today,'' he said.

Yesterday's news
By the time Padraig Harrington and Jay Haas walked down the 18th fairway -- the last twosome of the day -- Davis Love III was already celebrating.

And the third-round co-leaders were every bit yesterday's news.

Haas and Harrington each shot 72 to finish at 11-under -- tied for second, six shots behind Love.

In addition to the $572,000 checks they both earned, each man had plenty of consolation.

Haas moved into the top 10 on the money list and qualified for The Masters.

''As I look back on the week, I'll feel that that's definitely another bonus,'' Haas said.

Despite the disappointing finish, Harrington had the satisfaction of finishing the first three days in the lead.

''This week, I won't necessarily remember finishing second,'' Harrington said. ''That won't be the highlight. I will be pleased enough that I led after the first round, I led after the second round and I led after the third round.''

No more magic
Tracking toward the cup, the ball looked like it was going in. Last year, it probably would have, but this time, it skidded barely past.

Indeed, by the time defending champion Craig Perks reached No. 18 on Sunday, his closing-hole magic was long over.

Perks, in a tie for second through three rounds, closed with a 76 to finish tied for 17th.

''I just wanted to put on a good performance as defending champion,'' Perks said. ''I think I did that.''

Perks won his first, and still only, tournament last year with a remarkable eagle-birdie-par streak on Nos. 16-18 in which he touched his putter only once.

On Saturday, he chipped in from 16 for an eagle and made a 21-footer on 17 to move into second place. After the round, he labeled the closing holes his ''magic little area.''

But any chance for magic diminished early Sunday. He hit a ball in the water on No. 4 that led to a triple bogey and put him out of the running.

Tidbits
By finishing in a tie for sixth, Chad Campbell earned $225,875 to move to eighth on the money list and qualify for The Masters. ... Kirk Triplett's closing round of 67 qualified him for The Masters. He tied for eighth and earned just enough points to move up to No. 49 in the world rankings Monday, the deadline for the first major championship of the year. The top 50 not already eligible are invited to Augusta National. John Huston (No. 39), Tom Lehman (No. 44), and Tim Clark of South Africa (No. 45), also qualified for The Masters. ... After birdieing No. 17 the first three days, John Daly hit his tee shot in the water and made double bogey, part of a round of 80 that left him tied for 56th. ... John Cook withdrew before play began Sunday with an injured shoulder. ... Final word: ''I lost my swing very early -- like on the first tee,'' said Nick Faldo after a round of 2-over 74.





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